Thursday, July 30, 2015


July 27-31

We have now reached the northern most point of the Netherlands. This is the part I had the most expectation for and I'm not disappointed. The weather forecast was bleak: rain every day and temperatures barely at 60 F. Rain we are getting, but in showers not as a constant downpour. Thinking about what I wanted out of my stay at the island, it was mostly exploring, discovering the island and its natural treasures, getting back in touch with nature not much interfered with. I figured that in shorts and a T-shirt it would not matter that much if I got wet, but I have not been at the beach for a long time with water temperatures in the 50's and air temperatures not much higher. I had hoped that I could be surf casting, but I was unequipped and unprepared for that. Every day I find people casting out in the surf, but they are dressed in rain suits, waders and they bring heavy duty equipment to the battle. They are catching fish, sea-bass and flounder, which they entice to take the bait (mud-worms). But it is hard work and, from what I observe, catches are sporadic. No sharks or stingrays here.

Fishermen fit perfectly in the picture. Nothing else spoils the sovereignty of the landscape. Beaches are running endlessly into the ocean mist. Where the dunes end there are just flat sandy beaches.  We took a guided excursion to the western end of Vlieland, which is controlled by the Royal Dutch Air Force (of which I am a retired officer) as a training ground for air strikes. The area is not otherwise accessible for tourists and visitors. For miles on end, there is nothing there but sand and sea. And the birds that belong there or are simply passing by. And the seals that make a predator free home here. Here, the only points of reference are the mileposts, the observation tower for the airforce and a curious beachcomber shed, surrounded by a palisade of driftwood and flotsam. We could walk up to the the seals, frolicking in the creeks and pools.

Vlieland is about as old as the inhabited history of the Netherlands. As a barrier between the North Sea and the shallow Wadden Sea, it is a player in the eternal and typically Dutch struggle between water and sand. The whole area is a play of shifting sands, shallows and channels accommodating the fearsome pressures of water, wind and tides coming in from the North Sea. Little in the landscape here is lasting. It is made of sand, which shifts constantly. Vlieland only has one village, named Oost Vlieland, which is nestled in the dunes on the southeast side of the island and protected by a dike from the Wadden Sea, which otherwise could surprise the population in a backdoor sneak attack. The famous Dutch Admiral, Michiel Adriaensz de Ruyter, had a home here and attended church at the Nikolaas Church which still stands, thanks to several renovations. Vlieland has only 1,100 permanent residents (the only ones allowed to drive a car here), but in the summertime the population grows tenfold by the tourists coming in on the ferry from the mainland. They are accommodated at a choice of hotels, B&B's, rental homes and several camping grounds. But, if you stay away from the Dorpstraat, the main street of Oost Vlieland, you will not experience any overwhelming presence of humans. It helps that cars are virtually absent and people move on foot or by bike. Bike rental is a major source of revenue for the local businesses.

Vlieland is the most forested of the Wadden islands. The Dutch forest service started the forestation in the early part of the 20th century and the growth of deciduous trees and conifers are now fully mature. A small part of the island is dedicated to cranberry fields and there is substantial grassland to provide hay to the livestock of Vlieland, mostly horses.

The dunes protecting the island from the fury of the North sea are momentous in height and stature. A limited number of trails provide beach access between the dune tops.

Vlieland is rich in animal life, dominated by the birds, both residential and transitory. It is a bird watchers' paradise. And then you have the seals and plenty of rabbits. I have written at previous occasions about the special mystique of island life. It is at full display in Vlieland. I explored the island from East to West and took in the beauty of the beaches, the dunes, the forests, the village, the moors and the mudflats of the Wadden sea. It was tough peddling against the wind and up the hilly dunes patches, but you get rewarded by an easy wind driven return. Vlieland is peaceful and beautiful in all seasons and under any weather conditions. But most agreeable when the sun peaks through the clouds and the showers hold off or blow over. If you like island life Vlieland is for you. It is a micro-cosmos of Dutch landscapes and it has preserved its long history for a long time. For us it was an ideal gathering place for family members we have had little regular and intimate contact with since our departure for the other side of the Atlantic. A culmination of sorts to our pilgrimage to the home country.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


July 23-26

We are now in one of the three Northern provinces in the Netherlands, named Drenthe. Christie's brother Kees lives here, in the village of Diever, with his wife Wietske. They bought the home of the former mayor of Diever, which no longer needs a mayor because Diever is no longer an independent community. The Netherlands has gone very far in consolidating municipalities to eliminate duplication, cost and waste. So has Diever with a number of other, formerly independent towns and villages, become part of the municipality of Westerveld (an entity not previously found on the map). The townhall for Westerveld is newly built and located in Diever.

This part of Holland is another place of serenity and tranquility. It is amazing how many oases of natural beauty and peace are still available. For the second time since we arrived in Holland have we been on a long bike ride. The weather was just perfect, partly sunny and about 65 degrees, after a ferocious storm came through late yesterday and brought down trees everywhere. In contrast to the US, such event does not trigger power outages here, because all power lines have long ago been moved underground.

The coastal areas of Holland took the brunt of the storm of July 25, with wind gusts in excess of 100km/hr. We witnessed the storm coming in over the water at Stavoren, on the edge of the IJsselmeer, where the classic Frisian sailing race 'Skutjesilen' had to be canceled because of the weather conditions. Apparently, according to the media, we experienced the second fiercest July storm ever recorded in the Netherlands. Braving the conditions, we dedicated our day of July 25 to a tour (by car) of some of the island cities of the former 'Zuiderzee' (now IJsselmeer) which are, as a result of the land reclamation, surrounded by newly gained land of the 'Noordoostpolder' and 'Flevoland'. It is a unique phenomenon to see these age old island cities, with their harbors still intact, embedded in the flattest, newest land imaginable. We visited Stavoren, Urk, Lemmer and Vollenhoven. They are all centuries old and of unparalleled charm.

Drenthe is home to the largest collections of 'hunebedden', ceremonial grave sites, dating back more than 5,000 years. Not quite as big or imposing as 'Stone Hedge', they are nevertheless important archaeological features in the landscape. Drenthe is lightly populated with little more than 450,000 inhabitants in the total province. It was traditionally a poor area, since the sandy soil was not very productive for agricultural purposes. Large parts of the landscape are therefore unspoiled, heavily wooded and interspersed with moorland. The features of the landscape are sculpted by the retreating glaciers of the Ice Age, leaving behind morenes, huge boulders which became the building blocks for the 'hunebedden'. Biking around in Drenthe you have no idea that you are in the most densely populated country in Europe. The economy is part agricultural, but mostly recreational. Little industry and few jobs, which causes the young to leave for the big cities in Holland and the old to move in or hang around. Forgetting the weather it is ideal retirement terrain.

West of Drenthe lies the province of Friesland, the only province with its own language (Frisian) which is distinctly different from Dutch. The language makes a cultural revival and appears on most signs and publications, but is not a compulsory faculty in the Frisian schools. In Friesland we visited Stavoren, which we reached by way of the Ice Age created sandy ridge named 'Gaasterland' in an otherwise low lying land of lakes, grassland and waterways. Friesland is the land of sailing (in the summer) and ice skating (in the winter). Gaasterland is breathtakingly beautiful, with only a few small villages named Nijemardum, Aldemardum, Rijs en Murns. From there, the fishing village of Stavoren is only a stone-throw away.

Our last stop on the day of the storm was in Giethoorn, called 'Venice of the North', where the prevailing means of transportation is the boat. It is a major tourist attraction offering 1 hour and 2 hour boat rides on man powered or battery powered boats (gasoline and diesel engines are outlawed here in order not to break the silence and protect the air).

We will now be leaving the mainland for the barrier island of Vlieland. It will take a ferry ride of an hour and a half from the Frisian town of Harlingen. We have to leave our cars behind. No automobiles permitted on the island other than for a few license holders who are permanent residents of the island. The forecast is dim: rain and cold, but anticipation is great. This is the epitome of tranquility in the Netherlands. In theory, it is a great ground for surf fishing. We will see. I will report from there.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


July 20-23, 2015
After side tours to Rotterdam, Zeeuws Vlaanderen and Brabant we are back on our home base in Kockengen, which is a dot on the map in central Holland in the province of Utrecht. It has served us excellently, because from here we have found no destinations that were more than an hour and a half car ride away. Our ‘home away from home’ is a converted farm house in a landscape that is prototypical Dutch. It is low land, dissected by canals and ditches, which is still in agricultural use for livestock. It is definitely situated below sea level and part of the Netherlands that would be inundated by the sea if the country was not protected by an elaborate system of dikes, locks and pumping stations. Most windmills here were built not for milling but for the pumping of water away from the low laying areas. As secluded as it is, the highway from Amsterdam to Utrecht is only 5 km away and from there any destination in the Netherlands is within easy reach. Just outside the city of Utrecht lays Oudenrijn, the major intersection of highways going West-East and North-South.

The house in Kockengen is owned by the widow of a fraternity brother of mine. She is spending here summer in France at her property at Lescure Jaoul. Thus we have the (guest) house to ourselves. It could not be better for a relaxed vacation and home coming.

When I think of the Netherlands, and the reasons why we left for America, I think of the crowdedness, the congestion and therefore the lack of living and breathing space. But back here for this pilgrimage, I find the country much less confined than I remember it even though the population has grown from 13 million to over 16 million. Admittedly we have not spent much time in the ‘Randstad’, the triangle between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht, where the roads are indeed congested and living space comes at a premium. For this trip, we have, intentionally, focused on the islands of unspoiled natural beauty that still exist and are jealously protected by the people living there with help of the government. One of those beauty spots was Zeeuws Vlaanderen, so was Brabant, or at least the ‘boswachterij Ulvenhout’ where we biked from country estate to country estate on unpaved roads and bike paths. We discovered another one, named the ‘Utrechtse Heuvelrug’ a sandy, hilly ridge east to southeast of the city of Utrecht.

Another typical Dutch landscape we found when we entered the ‘Flevopolder’ one of the land reclamations from the ‘IJsselmeer’. Here the land is as flat as a pancake and roads are straightlined and intersect at 90 degree angles as is only possible in the prairie or in newly reclaimed land. Boring but very efficient for the creation of large farms and efficient traffic flow. We drove ( in 75 minutes) from Kockengen to the Flevopolder, now 53 years old, to visit with one of the few old friends mentioned in my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Immigration Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’ who lives on a golf course in Dronten. The landscape here is still too immature to be of exceptional beauty, but serene and quiet it was. We accomplished another goal of the pilgrimage: to catch up with old friends we had not seen in the longest time.

Now we are leaving our home base in Kockengen for a week and a half to head North and visit the province of Drenthe and, later on, the barrier island of Vlieland. Our first stop on this journey will be Epe, in the province of Gelderland, where we will visit with Jacco Eltingh and his family. Jacco is one of a handful of Dutch top tennis players, who won major championships with his playing partner Johan Haarhuis. We know Jacco from when he was a budding young talent, participating in ATP tournaments, who stayed with us when the tour brought him to the ATP tournament in Tampa, FL. It promises to be a nice drive. The weather is sunny, the temperature a mild 70 degrees and we will see another beauty spot of Holland, named ‘de Veluwe’, rich in forests and dunes. We will not dwell in Epe too long, because our destination for the next four days is Diever, in the province of Drenthe, where my brother-in-law and fraternity brother Kees lives with his wife Wietske. High expectations: a few years ago, Kees was able to buy the house that the village of Diever built for its mayor, some 100 years ago.

I must be looking at the Netherlands with different eyes than I used 35 years ago, because I can find no flaws with the style and manner of living here. It all looks so clean, well-organized and prosperous. Air and water are clean. Everyone seems to be doing well and the mood is generally optimistic. I love the fact that tax and gratuity are always included in the menu prices at restaurants: you know that you will pay exactly as advertised. With the Euro at about $1.10 we find prices here very comparable with what we are used to at home. The burden of taxation does not appear to be weighing too heavy on the population, even though the price of gasoline, at about Euro 1.65 per liter, is about two and a half times the price in Cleveland. And the Dutch pay a value-add-tax of 21-26% on just about anything they buy but is nearly invisible since it is always included in the price as advertised. We see no visible poverty here, no homeless or mentally deranged roaming the streets. It seems that in the Netherlands citizens get real value for the taxes they pay!

Monday, July 20, 2015


July 18-18, 2015

Maybe my fascination with Zeeuws Vlaanderen expressed in previous columns of this blog may be a little over the top. We bid that beauty spot of Holland farewell and crossed over to the center South province of the Netherlands, Brabant and found great natural beauty and exceptional hospitality there too. For the first time since we arrived in the Netherlands we got a chance to ride a bike and we toured for two hours the sights around the village of Ulvenhout with our friends Bert and Mieke. On this trip we saw no windmills but several age old country estates and one site that at one time was called ‘t Jagertje (the little Jager). Bert and Mieke live at the end of the road (only a bike path penetrates the forest deeper) in a renovated farm house that goes back centuries. They keep 6 horses there and the place is charming, beautiful and accommodating. The weather permitted outdoor living and we drank some delightful rose wine coming back from our bike tour. We had dinner in an old convent in Alphen-Chaam, the village where Bert serves as councilman in charge of finance and economy. A former business executive, Bert has –upon his retirement – stayed active in the public sector in the province of Brabant and in his community. From him I learned that all the many new roundabouts I now find on my way when driving around Holland have been installed to remove or avoid traffic lights and reduce power and maintenance expense. They also are believed to enhance traffic safety.

The province of Brabant is one of three provinces bordering Belgium. In the Southwest the province of Zeeland is border country, in the center south it is Brabant and in the Southeast it is Limburg (a province we will not hit on this trip). All three are largely rural, not overly densely populated and rich in natural beauty.

We also visited with Frits and Anjes, who have traded life on the farm in Westdorpe, Zeeuws Vlaanderen for an adult living facility in Oisterwijk to be closer to their children and grand-children. We reminisced about the fun times we shared during Mardi Gras and at the beach and on the farm. Frits’ side-show was the raising of pedigree sheep and we put many a lamb, which did not quite pass the muster, on the spit to feed a party. The story remains the same: our friends of yesteryear have all made a success out of their lives and so do their children. My generation has experienced a lifetime of peace and prosperity in Holland and elsewhere in Western Europe and they have nicely benefitted from significant appreciation in the value of real property and a vibrant and expanding community. The coming together and the expansion of the EU has been very beneficial to enterprising young talent in this part of the world. The high level of taxation prevailing in Holland does appear to have had an appreciable dampening effect on economic activity nor wealth creation. It has certainly helped that higher education and healthcare are largely financed with public rather than private funds. There are benefits to paying higher taxes if the government offers vital quality services in return. With negligible cost of higher education, every child in the Netherlands truly had and has a chance to get educated to the hilt and – as a result – there is now much more social mobility in Europe than in the US.

We finished a great weekend in Bilthoven at the home of one of Christie’s cousins who lives in the most desirable part of the village in a park-like landscape with age old trees and spectacular flower beds. He and his wife served us an elegant dinner and he had invited his sister, with whom we had been very good friends in Rotterdam and who shares our love for travel, to join us. This cousin, who followed two years after me in studying at what is now the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, has also made a very successful career in business and still serves on several boards of directors. It was hard to say goodbye when time came to return to home base in Kockengen.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


July 12-18, 2015

"I struggle and emerge" ( Luctor and Emergo in Latin) is the motto for the dutch province of Zeeland, where we are now spending time to relive a crucial part of our life. More particularly that part of Zeeland that is situated south of the river Scheldt and borders the neighbor country of Belgium appropriately named 'Zeeuws Vlaanderen'.
The motto is a reference to the constant struggle with the sea that is part of life in Holland, but nowhere more so than in this far southwest corner of the country. Zeeland is the territory of the delta for the great European rivers Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt.

It is here that I found my first job after completing my military service with the Royal Dutch Airforce. In many ways was it was here that our adult lives began as well. Adult life starts in earnest when the time has come to make a living. Nowhere in the world were we, as newcomers, embraced and welcomed as warmly as here in Zeeuws Vlaanderen. We lived here only for three years but made a lifetime of friends and dove in 1970 head over heels into the social scene of the region.

The Round Table #32 invited me to join and and its senior section invited me this week to make a presentation of my book 'NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism'. The book review triggered a lively and informed discussion about the fundamental differences between life in America and life in Western Europe, specifically the Netherlands and, more specifically, Zeeuws Vlaanderen. Of course, such discussion is inconclusive. It depends so much on what you expect from life and it varies with your personal and financial circumstances. The people we know here are all well to do and have lived productive and engaged lives. I doubt that they could have done better in the USA. If any conclusion emerged from the discussion, it is that many Europeans feel that the overburden of the EU, much like the Federal government in the USA, places an unnecessary, expensive and stifling layer of bureaucracy on life and economy. The Greek crisis has placed this problem in full view and everyone's awareness. It has made it painfully obvious that the 'one size fits all' approach by Brussels is not flexible and agile enough to keep up with ever changing economic and social conditions. The bottom line is that America is not unique in having its intractable social and political problems. If the USA thinks it has an immigrant problem, come look in the EU which is forced to absorb a never ending stream of refugees and desperates from across the Mediterranean.

Two aspects keep attracting me to Zeeuws Vlaanderen: the incredibly beautiful landscape, marked by long rows of high poplars, church steeples and windmills and the unfailingly welcoming attitude of the people we know there. While in the area, we were offered the home of good friends who had moved - as many people here do - to the Belgian coast for the month of July. Could not have asked for nicer accommodations. How trusting is it to leave your home, with all of its personal content, in the hands of distant friends? We slept like babies in their conjugal bed.

Time was spent roaming the wide beaches that stretch from Breskens on the river Scheldt to the Belgian town of Knokke, with the natural reserve 'de Zwin' separating Zeeland from Belgium. This is the kind of place I keep looking for on all my travels. Where natural beauty prevails and out of the way of the tourist masses. Places like this are hard to find anymore in an overcrowded country like the Netherlands, but a few of them are in Zeeuws Vlaanderen. We will be looking for more as we travel along. July is peak vacation time in Western Europe and on the sunny Thursday we visited the beach, it was busy with mostly Belgian and German tourists. But here the beach is so long and wide that it never felt crowded.

Not much has changed in Zeeuws Vlaanderen. Probably less than anywhere else in the country of the Netherlands. The essentials all have stayed the same: the landscape is still wide open en largely unspoiled. Other than a few thoroughfares, the roads are winding and narrow. A major difference with the time we lived here is that now virtually every rural intersection has turned into a roundabout (there were none in the seventies) and a few tunnels have been dug to facilitate the commercial traffic. The car ferries across the Westerschelde (Scheldt) are a thing of the past. Nothing has changed in the attitude and the hospitality of the people of Zeeuws Vlaanderen. We were magnificently entertained in several homes and had countless encounters with the friends we had made so long ago. The country looks prosperous, clean and well organized. Its natural beauty has carefully been maintained. Poverty like you will see traveling the rural roads in the USA is seemingly non-existent here.

Zeeland remains loyal to its motto 'Luctor et Emergo' and is constantly upgrading its defense against the rising tide. We had a spectacular dinner at Kruispolderhaven (haven is Dutch for harbor) which no longer has a harbor because the dike along the river Scheldt has been straightened out and elevated to 'delta' height, the new standard for protection against rising sea water. The Netherlands is proactively building its defenses against the effects of climate change. It learned its lesson in 1953 when a large part of Zeeland inundated and thousands of people drowned.

Having revisited Zeeuws Vlaanderen for a short week now, it is hard to bid farewell. We realize that by immigrating to the USA we forfeited a rich social life that is par for the course here. But there is no sense in looking back. America has been good to us and it is where the Jager family is firmly implanted with several roots. Memories linger and they are all good.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


July 11-12, 2015

By exception, it is brilliant weather in Holland and our siblings have called the troops together and we have family reunion on Saturday with the Ouwerkerk clan and Sunday with the Jager clan.
Never known that we are so popular, these events each drew a crowd and were  practically sell-outs.
As if Dagobert Duck had come back from America and was dispensing gold coins!
Niece Esther, who lives in Dordrecht, had first arranged a guided tour of the old city of Dordrecht (the oldest city in The Netherlands which obtained city rights in AD 1220). The tour ended at a house on the Wolweverskade named 'Rotterdam' that belongs to a friend of the family who gave our tour group a rousing reception. From there we drove, a little lubricated, to the fabulous home of niece Esther and her husband Albert on the outskirts of Dordrecht, where we saw the sun setting over a very animated gathering of kinfolk. Just like at the home on the range, not a disparaging word was heard. The art of conversation is still very much alive in Holland and texting is reserved for messaging, not exchanging thoughts, impressions or feelings. There is so much to talk about, since so many of our relatives have spent significant time in America and know exactly what we are talking about.

It is flattering to see several generations of family members come together from deep corners of the country for no better purpose than catching up with the American branch of the family, in this case represented not just by the two of us but also by our daughter, son in law and two of our grand daughters who had been vacationing on the British Isles.

The Jager clan got together, a sacred tradition, for coffee and cake at my twin sister's house in Rotterdam and moved from there for lunch to a river side restaurant with a view of three windmills, once used to pump the water out of the polder in a land situated well below sea level. We walked the dike after lunch and talked, and talked catching up for time lived apart. Here too, we had three generations represented and celebrants ranging from 84 to 4 years old.

There is no denying that our social life would have been richer and more demanding had we decided to stay in Holland. There are no distances in Holland (in two to three hours you drive from West to East and from North to South), it is the size of the State of Delaware and no friend or family member ever lives too far away for regular contact. In Holland we re-familiarize ourselves with the art of a dinner conversation over dinners that stretch out for hours (and no smart phones allowed).

We decided, in the early eighties, to make America our home in large part because we believed that our children and grand children would have a better chance to succeed there than in the Netherlands. It looked that way before the Berlin Wall fell and communism collapsed under its own weight. Looking around now in the old stumping ground, I am not so sure that the facts justify that assessment. The children of our siblings are extra-ordinarily successful, both personally and professionally, in fields as wide ranging as the theater, the medical profession, the judiciary, the military and business. Little doubt in my mind that our kids would have fared equally well in Holland as they are doing in the USA.

We feel blessed to have come from such strong and caring families who have never treated us as errant children and continue to cherish the precious moments that we have together. At occasions like this, there is no distance between Europe and America.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


July 10, 2015

Rotterdam is the town where I spent most of my adolescent life and where I went to Law School at the Erasmus University (at the time still named Nederlandsche Economische Hoogeschool).
The city has gone through a remarkable transformation in the many years that I have been absent. It has grown into a world class living and working community with some great old and new architecture and splendid public transportation between train, tram, metro and buses. Trams move, incredibly quiet, to all parts of the city. Living in town there is no need to drive a car, in fact the city makes it very hard and expensive to drive a car, because free parking is non-existent and paid parking is hard to find and expensive (up to 40 Euro for a day). I roamed the scenes of Rotterdam on a day-pass that allowed me to jump around from the tram to the Metro at a cost of no more than 7.50 Euro for the whole day. The other alternative for cars, obviously, is the bike, the traditional mode of transportation for the Dutch.

Rotterdam is what it is, I hate to say, because of the Germans who flattened the inner city in a day long bombing raid in May 14 of 1940 aimed at breaking the Dutch military resistance against the German invasion in World War II (Holland had managed to remain neutral during World War I).
The German tactics worked. The Netherlands surrendered the next day, May 15, 1940.
Only a very few buildings were left standing in that bombardment. These are now highly visible landmarks in a completely redrawn cityscape. They include the St. Laurens Church, City Hall and 'the White House', long, at ten floors, the tallest building in the Europe, built in art nouveau style in 1898. The project of refilling the space that the Germans flattened is finally coming to an end. It has been filled to capacity with sometimes eye-catching architecture.

Situated at the mouth of the river Rhine, only about 35 km inland from the North sea, Rotterdam has long been the most important maritime port in Europe. Along the river Rhine and with a connection to the Danube, container traffic can reach many inland destinations in Western and Eastern Europe. Because of its location, Rotterdam has become a dynamo for economic development of the Netherlands. What strikes me, as I walk around my old stomping ground, is how well Rotterdam is taking advantage of its abundant waterfront. The commercial port has moved out of the city to the Maasvlakte, a large stretch of virgin land that the Dutch have reclaimed from the North sea. Thus, the port for the large ships has moved closer to the coastline and away from the city of Rotterdam, but still within its jurisdiction. The space, including many mooring slips, that has been vacated in this effort has been put to magnificent use for recreational and housing developments. The waterfront is publicly accessible almost everywhere you go and has become an important tourist attraction. The old passenger terminal for the Holland-America Line (pictured above) has been converted into a luxury hotel and the retired ss.Rotterdam has been permanently moored in the Maashaven. The near-by red-light district of Katendrecht has, for lack of business from the now absent sailors, been converted into an entertainment area with cafes, restaurants and terraces. If I have any criticism of the rebuilt of Rotterdam, it would be that there is awful little green space amid the architectural marvels of old and new.

Rotterdam today has a mayor of Moroccan descent, Ahmed Aboutaleb, a Muslim who has made himself well known and popular with the Dutch for his no-nonsense approach towards Muslim integration into the fabric of life in the Netherlands. He follows a series of energetic and ambitious city chiefs that have managed to make Rotterdam not only into an economic logistics powerhouse but also a very livable environment. It is home to Feijenoord, one of the top soccer clubs in the Netherlands, and to the Erasmus University, which features a world class medical center, a renown Economics Faculty and a business oriented Law School. In terms of livability, Rotterdam can compete with any US city.

Friday, July 10, 2015


July 9, 2015

"De Pijp" is the Dutch name for a stove pipe and it is a legendary watering hole in my college town of Rotterdam. The name is a reference to the shape of the place which is nothing more than a narrow stove pipe offering room for some 60 revelers. I revisited the place today for lunch with my fraternity brothers and found that it is about the only place in Rotterdam that has not changed in the 47 years that have gone by since I graduated from the Erasmus University. But boy did we change!

My friends had offered me the opportunity to present my book 'NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism' and they cut me no slack in debating the premise and the contents with me. We are all of a generation of Dutch who will remain eternally grateful to America for the leading and decisive role it played in fighting and defeating Nazism and then followed through with the Marshall plan, restoring the infrastructure and economies destroyed in the war. That has not changed. But my fraternity brothers are incredulous when they hear the words 'American Exceptionalism' because they are not convinced that America is the same inspiration and positive force in the world of today. I hear two major lines of criticism: America's interventional foreign policies, from Vietnam through Afghanistan, and American tolerance for the developing of an underclass at the bottom of the social pyramid at home.

Of course, my book is mostly about the latter even though I largely agree that America has been overly adventurous in military interventions in places where it had no business. In my book I point out that America has not won a war since World War II (Desert Storm was an unfinished work that had to be redone to remove Sadam Hussein). America has stirred up a lot of hornets nests without ever taking out the stingers.

I get the impression that my book is better received in Holland than in America and sales seem to confirm that perception. Quite a few people in audience at de Pijp have lived or spent substantial time in America and by and large underwrite my assessment of the flaws in the American system. They are less confident than I am that America will prove to be up to the challenge and do what it has to do to remain on top of the world.

It is too hard for me to accept that America will not or cannot, like it did once it got involved in the two World Wars, mobilize all of its energy, drive and potential to win the competition now under way for global leadership among nations. But I will accept that it will take an act of exceptional leadership and willingness to fundamentally change the political system.

The subject of Greece also came up and was told that Greece will ultimately buckle under the pressure of its creditors and will start to bring some order in its financial house. This in spite of the overwhelming rejection of further austerity at the July 5 referendum. There is much criticism in the Netherlands of the 'one size fits all' rule of Brussels, but my compatriots are also quick to point out that Greek culture allows tax cheating, black markets and a bloated bureaucracy that traditionally has been pampered. The country has teetered several times on the brink of communism and left and right are about as divided there as they are in the US. The problem is, of course, that the Greek economy has a lot less size and vitality than the US and recovery from the very deep self inflicted financial crisis is inevitably going to be hard and long, with or without new support from the EU and or the IMF. In that sense, for the unfortunate Greek population, Grexit or not is not likely to make a big difference.

Back to the Netherlands, I experience it as vibrant, clean and busy. Cars are new and -if anything - overly plentiful. The main traffic arteries are choked by the volume of traffic with great regularity.
It makes for anxious driving, bumper to bumper across four or five lanes. Distance between your origination and destination is no yardstick for time of travel. Only traffic density is. No wonder there is much more reliance on public transportation and - other than in the US - in Holland it is modern, clean and it works.

Then you have the typical Dutch delicacies. I respect that taste, like beauty, is in the senses of the beholder, but I find myself feasting on new herring, Dutch shrimp (crevettes grises) and smoked eel. And, of course, Dutch cheese. Not the industrial grade plastic wrapped Kraft stuff but the real deal, cut from the huge wheel of cheese you find in the local cheese store. You don't realize what you miss, until you come back to the low country and have it all abundantly available again, of high quality.

Tomorrow we will be touring Rotterdam and experience how that city has morphed into a world class mix of old and new. The gaping hole that German bombardment caused in 1940 has finally been rebuilt with eye catching architecture. And few cities in the world have made their abundant waterfront more accessible and integrated in the housing and recreation universe.

Friday, July 3, 2015


Ever since my retirement from PrimeraTurf in 2011, my wife Christie and I have followed through on our plan to make one long trip each year for as long as we are capable to places we have not seen before. We have visited New Zealand, Alaska and the National Parks in Colorado and Utah.
This year we deviate a little from the plan in order to revisit  our cradle, The Netherlands. Our focus is going to be on catching up with family members and friends (before it is too late) but the inner desire is to find the few places in Holland where either nature or history commands our attention and respect.

In two places, Rotterdam and Axel, I will be discussing my book 'NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism'.

We will spend a short week with Christie's siblings on the barrier island of Vlieland on the Northern coast of Holland, where cars are banned and I hope to find the solitude and equanimity that only remote and unspoiled nature can give.

I'll report regularly in this forum on my findings and impressions. Find out if I gained or lost by trading Holland for America.

Look for new postings starting July 7